Curator theft raises museum alarms

( CRI ) Updated: 2015-07-23 16:29:51

Curator theft raises museum alarms

Xiao Yuan, a former curator from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, stands trial for selling the school's artworks. [Photo/Guangzhou Daily]

Xiao Yuan, former library curator of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art, has been charged with selling authentic art works and replacing them with fakes that he forged on his own.

Prosecutors claim that Xiao took advantage of his post to steal more than 140 works between 2002 and 2010, including traditional Chinese paintings by renowned artists Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi.

Ma Weidu, an antiques collector, says "inside jobs" have become a trend in museum thefts.

"Before the 1980s, most relic thefts were break-in cases: burglars broke into museums to steal items. In the 21st century, as advanced technologies were introduced and large investments were poured into this field, break-in cases committed by invaders have decreased. Most museum thefts are now inside jobs."

Ma emphasizes that without strict implementation of regulations, even the most advanced security systems cannot stop theft from happening.

"For example, we have regulations saying that anyone who enters a compartment has to be accompanied with at least one person. When staff members are familiar with each other, it may be harder to implement the regulations, as some lazy ones will say 'I will stay outside and wait, you can just move on'. If those things happen, the regulations become a useless scrap of paper."

Prosecutors say Xiao Yuan sold 125 items for more than 34 million yuan via two auction companies between 2004 and 2011.

Dong Guoqiang, an auction industry insider, says it is hard for auction companies to verify origins of objects for auction.

"According to the auction law, clients should make clear the origins and defects of the objects for auction. But auctioneers could only listen to their stories; they are unable to confirm them. After all, auction enterprises are not the police."

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